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The tree of Heaven (Ailanthus altissima) is a species that was introduced to the United States in 1784 when it was brought from China to be used as an ornamental tree. Although many people find it attractive, this fast-growing tree is generally considered as more of a weed. The roots are poisonous and believed to inhibit the growth of native plants. Its leaves and male flowers emit a noxious odor. Tree of Heaven makes usable firewood, but can be hard to split.
Remove all branches from the tree. This is best done before there are any leaves, but if leaves are present, insure that these are kept away from livestock, as they are toxic.
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Cut all bare limbs into lengths suitable for use as firewood, usually 16 or 17 inches. Very small limbs, twigs, leaves and other debris should be hauled away, burned or shredded for use as compost.
Cut down the tree of Heaven in the early spring, before leaves have fully matured and before any blossoms appear. If the tree is extremely large, hire professional help.
Measure and mark the tree into 16- to 18-inch pieces. Note that you can mark into longer lengths if you need bigger pieces of firewood. Cut the entire tree into rounds, using the marks as guidelines.
Split the rounds into halves, thirds or quarters. The goal is to have a mix of sizes, which makes burning easier. The tree of Heaven is notoriously hard to split, so you may need to use wedges and the sledgehammer to force splits in the wood a few inches at a time.
Stack the wood in rows to allow it to dry out and become seasoned before attempting to use it as firewood. The wood from the tree of Heaven is comparable to that of other hardwoods when used for firewood, producing about 8,300 British thermal units per pound, according to the Virginia Department of Forestry.
It is best to cut down the tree of Heaven before it puts out flowers, even before the leaves have grown in the spring, if at all possible. This removes many of the potential problems with harvesting this tree for firewood and simplifies the task of felling it and cutting it up. If you don’t want it to re-grow, use herbicide on the stump to prevent further growth.
Cutting down a tree is dangerous and can cause property damage, serious injury or death. Professional help is recommended, unless the tree is very small. Some people have reported rashes when cutting down this tree, likely caused by contact with the leaves. The foul odor of the leaves also may cause nausea and headaches. Breathing protection is recommended.